Herzog | Study Guide

Saul Bellow

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Herzog | Chapter 5 | Summary



Moses Herzog has been invited to Ramona Donsell's for dinner. He reluctantly accepts and then begins to rally. He bathes and dresses carefully, writes letters in his head, and begins to think about his affair with Sono Oguki. He addresses her personal habits and her loving attention in detail and even wonders if she would have been a better choice than Madeleine for his second wife.

Herzog arrives at Ramona's happy to see her. She has prepared a beautiful meal, and he enjoys her attention and the sophisticated stylishness of her home. They spend a good part of the evening discussing Madeleine Pontritter and Valentine Gersbach and their callous treatment of him. He is moved by Ramona's kind intentions and patience with his self-indulgence. Ramona retires to change for bed, and Herzog drifts into a familiar complaint about the state of the world until he considers the potential for what he wishes: "Oh, for a change of heart, a change of heart—a true change of heart!" He realizes how much he needs this to go on.


In this chapter readers encounter Moses Herzog at his most peaceful. The love of a kind and attentive woman seems to put him at ease. He recalls Sono wanted to marry him. She had even put off returning to Japan in the hopes something would come of their match. Ramona, similarly, is bent not so much on seducing him as convincing him they could help each other. She admits her life has not been easy and presents herself as a woman deeply committed to a rewarding sexual relationship as the basis of a peaceful union.

Herzog, in Ramona's arms, seems to have a moment of clarity, a sense of reality and possibility. He reflects on the situation, realizing that "aging, vain, terribly narcissistic, suffering without proper dignity—he was taking comfort from someone who really didn't have too much of it to spare him." He has no doubt of her intentions: "She senses that I am for the family. For I am a family type, and she wants me for her family." Clearly, he has found a woman who is honest and who shares his ideals. The question left is whether he will be able to act, to respond to the right sort of partner instead of the perverse choices of his past. Previously he had ignored the warning signs and forged ahead as though his needs and his realities were the only ones.

At moments in Ramona's tender, reassuring speech, which Herzog calls "a lecture," his cynicism takes over. At others he seems prepared to believe her. As he waits for her to change for bed, he fantasizes about marrying Ramona and joining her in her successful flower business. She returns costumed for a sexual encounter (high heels, black lace panties), and he allows himself to enjoy their union. He sleeps well and wakes to admire her beauty in her peaceful, postcoital sleep. Stroking her hair and smiling, he falls back asleep.

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